Teshuvah (Return, or Repentance) is a generous gift from G-d, which allows us to erase our improper actions through a four-step process (see below).
The Torah tells us that no matter how far we stray or how many times we sin, G-d will wait for us to return to him through Teshuvah.
There are four basic parts to Teshuvah:
1. Leaving the Sin 2. Regret 3. Confession Before G-d 4. Acceptance for the Future
1. Leaving the Sin Leaving the sin consists of stopping the commission of the sinful act. One cannot do Teshuvah if one continues to do the sin, even if he or she were to perform the next three steps perfectly.
2. Regret Regret consists in sincerely regretting one’s wrong action. One must be genuinely ashamed and embarrassed over one’s sins.
3. Confession Before G-d Acceptance for the future consists of resolving in one’s heart never to commit the sin ever again.
4. Acceptance for the Future Confession before G-d consists of an oral confession spoken out loud, in which one formulates in words the commitments and attitudes one has reached in his or her heart. One should say, “I have sinned, I have done such and such; I deeply regret my actions, and I declare before G-d, Who knows my innermost thoughts, that I will never do this sin again.”
But… 1. The above steps only work for sins committed against G-d; for sins committed against other people, one must first ask forgiveness from that person before G-d will accept the Teshuvah.
This is the source of the practice by many Jews to contact all of their family, friends and co-workers during this period to ask for forgiveness for anything we may have done to upset them during the past year(s).
2. These four steps are of course only valid if we do Teshuva AFTER THE FACT. One cannot say in advance – “I can do this sin, then do Teshuvah and He will forgive me…” It simply doesn’t work that way as it may in other belief systems.
On the other hand… One should keep in mind that Teshuvah is an ongoing process that cannot be accomplished overnight. No matter how many times a person may stumble in the Teshuvah process, that person has to simply pick him or herself up and keep trying to stay on the right path.
What G-d is really looking for is the sincerity of the effort that a person puts into their Teshuvah!